Higher School Certificate exams begin today for more than 4,500 students at Sydney Catholic schools. They will sit exams alongside more than 77,000 NSW students in 2016, the qualification’s 50th year.
Among them are 138 Year 12 students from Marist College North Shore. Their dedication to study was on display when they attended full-day study workshops during their pre-exam break, including one on the October long weekend public holiday.
Director of Teaching and Learning – Contemporary Curriculum and Diversity, Carolyn O’Brien, said a strategic approach to developing study skills school-wide has helped Year 12 students be prepared for their exams.
This includes developing strong relationship with parents to support their child’s learning, setting individual student learning goals each year, providing clear expectations and study strategies, and after hours opportunities for study and teacher feedback.
A study skills seminar in February saw 12 past HSC high achievers return for a question-and-answer session with current students. There they shared the study approaches that worked for them. Ms O’Brien supervised study session on Tuesdays of the school holidays, while the College’s Principal Tony Duncan and Director of Faith Formation Anthony Munro supervised the Monday long weekend session which about 20 students attended.
They have come together as a group and supported each other.
Recognising that each subject is unique, Ms O’Brien said there were broad study strategies that the students had tapped into to prepare as well as possible for the exams. Educational Consultant Dr Prue Salter also gave the senior students tips on effective handwriting skills.
“Definitely that muscle strength and resilience and helping their legibility is quite important, so we recommend that they ease off typing, particularly when doing their notes,” Ms O’Brien said.
“Before they start doing past papers they need to know their content. Effective mind maps and study notes are crucial as the students complete each topic or unit.
“They then use strategies to memorise and I think personally the best strategy is when they teach someone else. By doing that they are going to retain up to 90 per cent of that information.
“They then discuss, debate, reinforce each other’s point of view, and ask critical questions such as ‘What is your supporting information? What quotes are you going to use?’ It becomes a very dynamic and fluid classroom environment.”
“The second important thing is familiarity with the exam and the nuances of the question, and having generous teachers to give them quality feedback on where they are and how to improve.
“Expectations need to be measurable, continuous and incremental – not ‘all of a sudden we expect to you to get this result’ without that support. That’s when you get anxiety and issues with wellbeing.”
It has been a difficult year for many of the students, who have dealt with the loss of a friend in a car crash in March and taken the pressures of their final year of high school in their stride.
“The students in Year 12 this year went through extraordinary grief,” Ms O’Brien said.
“To their credit they have come together as a group and supported each other and I think that’s very, very special. They’ve had a tough year.”
Accelerated students lead the pack
A small group of the College’s Year 12 students elected to complete an accelerated Mathematics program and sit HSC exams in the subject while in Year 11. Many gained Band 6 results and have had fewer subjects to prepare for in the lead up to the current exams.
Likewise for Champagnat Catholic College Pagewood Year 12 student Benjamin Wilson, who achieved First in Course honours after he successfully sat HSC exams for Aboriginal Studies in 2015.
Benjamin’s advice to fellow students was included in the Sydney Morning Herald’s 2016 HSC Study Guide. He suggested committing key statistics to memory.
“I used trigger words from the syllabus as subheadings in my notes – things like manifestation of racism, socioeconomic status,” he told the SMH.
The HSC begins on Thursday, October 13 and ends Friday November 4.